What do you get when you combine a nice set of Hot Wheels and fire? My childhood. But some grown men in Montana get paid to relive my childhood. Except their game might just save your life.
Simulating an emergency is important for first responders. It's also really expensive. So a group of about a dozen emergency responders in Clearwater Junction, Montana came up with an idea to simplify and scale down the training process.
They created a scale model of the Clearwater Junction area with five gallons of sand, colored shoestring, tiny plastic trees and a little guidance from Google Earth.
Then, with a messload of little plastic army men and a fleet of Hot Wheels emergency vehicles, they turned that giant sandbox for adults into a realistic 1:80 scale training simulation table.
Firefighters and paramedics? Check.
Tons of little army men? Check.
Bunch of Hot Wheels? Let's go.
That's when the trouble started out on Highway 200.
Already, the accident had injured two of the Army guys, who were quickly whisked away by a Hot Wheels ambulance back to Missoula. One had an injured plastic head; the other, a broken plastic femur.
Then it got worse. The tiny pretend vehicles started a tiny pretend fire that, fanned by a pretend 24 mile an hour wind gust, turned the whole thing into an instant pretend inferno. In a sandbox.
So unlike our childhood, the fires they start aren't real. The lessons they're learning, however, are very real — and they're more important than our lesson learned as kids — once you burn your Hot Wheels car, you couldn't play with them again.
Even though the disaster was at one-eightieth scale, the first responders practiced real-time communications that included receiving guidance from the helicopter pilot "hovering" over the scene.
Other than a couple of plastic army men who were expected to make full recoveries, no one was injured. And at the end of the day, the first responders packed up the town and put it into storage for the next drill.
"That's what's nice about this form of training," said Cindy Super, a fire prevention coordinator. "It's pretty portable."
Photo Credit: CGK/Flickr; Tom Bauer / Missoulian